Implications of Matriliny: Gender and Islam in Northern Mozambique

Signe Arnfred*

*Corresponding author

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The paper investigates ways in which gender relations of matrilineal culture in inland northern Mozambique have impacted on the culture of the coast, an area profoundly marked by Sufi Islam. The findings demonstrate how Islam has adapted to matrilineal culture in significant ways, in terms of male/female leadership of Sufi tariqas, and in terms of norms associated with sexuality and marriage. Islamic tradition is respected in as far as bride’s virginity at first marriage is considered important. However, in tune with matrilineal culture of the hinterland, marriage is often a transitory arrangement, and divorce is easy. Extra-marital sex is accepted, or at least condoned – provided that norms of discretion are properly maintained. Drawing on data material from cities further north on the Swahili coast, findings suggest that norms regarding female sexual autonomy, with roots in matrilineal culture brought to the coast by female slaves from the interior, have impacted on women’s lives also in Mafia Island, Zanzibar and Mombasa. Women seem to have been first movers in post-abolition erosion of class hierarchies and general change of culture.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Feminist Journal of Politics
VolumeLatest articles
Number of pages20
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Mar 2021


  • Matriliny
  • Sufi Islam
  • Male/female leadership
  • Rituals of initiation
  • Female sexual autonomy

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